Currently, 5 % of the population in Western countries suffer from autoimmune disease. More than ever, as the coronavirus pandemic surges, many of us are looking for ways to maintain a strong immune system. Improving immune function might not keep you from contracting the virus but it very well may be what saves you from suffering from its most sever symtoms. You don’t have to have an autoimmune disease to have a compromised immune system. But those who do are at severe risk from all sorts of infections and illnesses outside of the “one” they are already diagnosed with.
At the core of most chronic illness, specifically those of the autoimmune type, is systemic inflammation. At some point within the intertwining systems of our body, a kink in the chain started a cascading effect miscommunication and misinformtaion which leads the body to attack itself. This usually materialzes in inflammation, pain and disirder of function pretty much anywhee in the body. These diseases can be completely debilitating and may turn into multiple diagnoses as things progress. But, with updated, holistic approaches, people are recovering and reversing many of these disease that were previosuly thought of as a life sentence. The functional medicine approach has been a leading part of this change towards recovery.
Functional medicine seeks to find the root cause of the inflammation rather than just diagnose the symptoms and medicate to decrease those symptoms. This is the problem with our current system – symptoms don’t point to root cause. This misguided correlation of symptom-to-cause also happens with physical ailments. Most of the time, when one of my clients comes in with pain in their knees, ankles, neck, etc., we often have to look at the entire body through different movement patterns to understand what the source of the issue is. If we just treat to source of the NOW obvious symptom of dysfunction then we may blur the pain but another problem will often arise further down the chain. If you have pain in your neck and all your physio or trainer suggests are neck stretches – that is the equivalent of western medicine’s diagnosis and treatment protocol for chronic illness.
For the intended purpose of this series of blog posts, I just want to be clear, we’re not talking about ways to “boost” your immune system. Some supplements and medications are know for suppressing or boosting immune response. These have their uses but when treating root cause autoimmune illness and many other chronic illnesses, cardiovascular disease and even cancers, we are seeking ways to regenrate, renew our immune response to ia healthy functioning capacity, Boosting a broken system leads to disaster. So, I just want to point out a couple approaches in this blog post on how to renew the system without danger of boosting the wrong signals.
The major problem with immuno-suppressive therapy – which is the cornestone of western medicines approach to autoimmune disease – is that by lowering the immune response you lay the ground work for other invaders like viruses, bacterial infection, cancers, mental illness or muscle wasting to barge in and cause havoc.
Even with people who have a genetic predisposition for autoimmunity, a trigger is usually required for it to start.
In functional medicine, the idea is to figure out the Why, Where and How.
There is a protocol comonly used to treat chronic illness by healing the gut and immune response . It is called the 5 R’s. –
Even before starting with the 5 Rs, extensive testing is usually done to look for markers of inflamation, unwanted metabolites, hormone imbalances, parasite or yeast overgrowth, muscle enzymes, microbiome diversity/profile, heavy metal toxicity, etc.. Again, you need to know the where and the why, not just the what. In keeping with our focus on immune function and renewal, lets pass over the other areas and look at what the 5 Rs mean for healing the gut.
Remove – might mean starting an elimination diet to take out any underlying alergens like gluten, dairy, soy, as well as any potential parasite or yeast overgrowth.
Replace – would be a program to begin adding nutrients, fiber, enzymes, prebiotics, etc., that may have been missing from your diet that will help optimize function. This is often done in phases or cycles. Overloading a system, even if it is with “good” compounds can have a negative effect. Yams, sweet potatoes and greens are a good source of easy to digest fibrous and nutritious foods. Tonights dinner is a sweet potato and organic, grass fed beef shepherds pie with garlic onion, dandeion root and artichoke hearts (all of which are great prebiotic foods)!
Re-inoculate – this involves introducing a probiotic regimen, predominently through fermented foods but also with supplementation. Now is a good time to learn how to make your own kimchi or sauerkraut! It will take up some time and help you repopultae your gut with good bacteria!
Repair – could also be a second phase of “replace” now implementing a program including nutrients that are anti-inflammatory and other compounds that are missing from the diet such as glutamine, fish oil, polyphenols, and certain vitamins. In the next parts I will get into details about other healing foods and supplements you can look for. Berries, beans, nuts and many spices are chalk full of polyphenols. As is coffee!
Restore – when your immune system has been all wonky for months or years, other systems have also been taxed, incuding the nervous system. In fact the nervouse systems original reaction to things like stress, anxiety or trauma may have been the original trigger. We need to find new ways to restore balance to a system that has been working over time and now may be fatigued or just not working at all. This is where, meditation, sleep optimization, exercise, self love and finding purpose play a deep role in healing.
Our microbiome is regulated by what we eat. If we disrupt the balance for long enough then issues arise, inflammation occurs and the permeability of our intestines can lead to an invasion on the rest of our body’s systems by compounds that should never have entered it. If you think about the sheer quantities of processed foods that do damage to our guts you can see why 6 out of 10 Americans have chronic illness. Then on top of the processed foods and sugar, if you add all the antibiotics, acid blockers, anti-inflammatory medications and other toxins we have a catastrophic amount of disruption of the gut microbiome.
We can follow the 5 Rs without the testing, though I highly recommend finding a functional health practicioner to guide you through some of them. You can also start your own investigation by ordering your own microbiome testing and genetic testing kits. Both of which will give you some ideas as to what foods to avoid and what to add. It is pertinent to note that you don’t need to follow a spceific order of the Rs. Just remember that too much change all at once won’t lend much insight into what is working, nor will it make things easier to maintain. For longevity sake, do a couple things at a time. take note, then add some more. Any change in lifestyle should be done at a pace that is sustainable.
An interesting thing to keep in mind though is that studies in brain chemistry have shown that diets high in processed foods (sugar) interfere with the brains ability for decision making. It has been shown that the communication between the prefrontal cortex (decision making, consequences of behaviour) and the amygdala (impulsive behaviour, fight or flight) is basically shutdown. So the “grown up” in the room has little to no control over the impulsive reactions our “candy fiendish child” has towards foods. So,hopefully, when balance is restored we will have more control over our decisions when it comes to foodas our brain chemisty normalizes.
By optimizing your biome and healing your gut you can literally renew your body’s ability to process foods safely and respond to any compounds without throwing the whole system out of balance. Instead of sa ystemic inflammaotry response, your body will do what it was designed to do, whcih is to deal with one small problem at a time, with efficiency and ease.
In Part 2 I will go into some more detail on some information I have recently posted about fasting and Immune system renewal. Then I hope to get into the very potent role that mushrooms can play in the regeneration process as well.
Stay Home, Stay Stay Strong!